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World of Warcraft Battle for Azeroth review: A fun but flawed grudge match for the future of Azeroth

The Horde vs Alliance rivalry in World of Warcraft is one of the longest-standing biffs in video game history.

It stretches across decades and genres, starting in Blizzard’s original 1994 strategy game, Warcraft: Orcs & Humans. The latest expansion – Battle for Azeroth – brings this conflict to a head.

World of Warcraft - Battle for Azeroth

A lot has changed between then and now.

After banding together to fight the Burning Legion in the last expansion, tensions between the Horde and Alliance began bubbling up as soon as the threat to the planet was wiped out. With both sides scrambling to get their hands on the valuable new resource Azerite, players are once again being asked to pick a side, gear up and duke it out.

Following hot on the heels of the wildly successful Legion, the hype for this expansion was very real. It’s no surprise, then, that Battle for Azeroth broke launch day records for the company, selling over 3.4 million copies on its first day.

Now that the dust has settled one month on, players have had a chance to really sink their teeth into the content and see what the latest expansion has to offer. And straight off the bat, Battle For Azeroth stands apart from Blizzard’s other expansions as having one of the strongest story experiences to date.

In a series of quests which launched prior to the expansion, the totally-morally-grey-and-not-evil leader of the Horde, Sylvanas Windrunner, laid waste to the Night Elf capital of Darnassus. Battle For Azeroth starts soon after this, with players taking part in fighting against or taking part in a retaliatory attack by the Alliance on the Forsaken capital of Lordaeron.

Following a devastatingly destructive battle, the Horde and Alliance armies find their supply of willing and able soldiers dangerously low. Desperately in need of allies, the Horde tasks players with travelling to the island of Zandalar to recruit the help of the once-malignant Zandalari trolls.

In response, Alliance players team up with longtime hero Jaina Proudmoore to try to win the support of the once-allied Houses of Kul’Tiras. Both campaigns see the player fighting through three diverse areas on their respective islands, uncovering and beating back otherworldly plots, political intrigues and devastating threats to the island’s inhabitants.

Each of the areas is wonderfully crafted and beautiful in it’s own, unique way. From the lush rainforests of Zuldazar to the rugged, pirate-filled waters of Tiragarde Sound, there’s so many things to see and experience that the levelling experience constantly feels vibrant and fresh.

World of Warcraft - Battle for Azeroth

Some authentic Troll architecture in Zuldazar.

World of Warcraft - Battle for Azeroth

Freehold, in Tiragarde Sound.

Major props are likewise deserved for the game’s stellar music and voice acting, which really tie the whole experience together. Coupled with the absolutely epic cinematics, it’s clear that Battle For Azeroth is one of the most artistically beautiful and thematically interesting World of Warcraft expansions to date.

World of Warcraft - Battle for Azeroth

Tiragarde Sound, the largest and most central of the three major regions of Kul Tiras.

Unfortunately, the game is let down by some its headlining features and mechanics.

For a game that’s ostensibly about the all-out war between the Alliance and Horde, there’s surprisingly little incentive for the two factions to actually fight each other in Player vs Player (PvP) combat. The War Campaign tasks players with setting up footholds in enemy regions, but beyond that feels relatively shallow.

Players can toggle War Mode to opt in or out of PvP combat. Kill enough players from the enemy faction and you end up with a bounty on your head, with your location marked on the map for all to see. While this presents some great opportunities for World PvP, it would be great to see more systems put in place to actively encourage the two factions to duke it out.

Even the much-anticipated Island Expeditions and Warfront scenarios are little more than repetitive grinds after the first few times you try them. Which is a damn shame, because the premise behind them is so cool.

In Island Expeditions, small teams of players are dropped onto procedurally generated islands, where they compete against other players or NPCs to collect the most Azerite. Unfortunately, the actual experience ends up feeling more like a chore, with monotonous and predictable enemy spawns and uninspiring reward systems.

World of Warcraft - Battle for Azeroth

Screenshot of an island expedition. (Credit: Gamepedia)

Even more disappointing are the Warfront scenarios. The factions take turns building up bases and armies, then assaulting each other’s strongholds in classic world PvP hotspots (starting with Arathai Highlands). The only problem? There’s no opportunity for any actual PvP in these scenarios. At all. As a result, each Warfront experience feels identical to the last, making the whole experience feel repetitive and stale.

In general, there’s a consensus amongst players that advancement is just far too time-gated and grind-based. The newly introduced Azerite Power system in particular has garnered plenty of criticism on Reddit and Blizzard’s official forums.

In order to make the most of any new loot you earn, you need to level up your Heart of Azeroth – a necklace which gets progressively more powerful as you collect Azerite. Unfortunately, there’s just no way to reasonably collect this stuff without pouring hundreds of hours into grinding the game’s more repetitive content.

World of Warcraft - Battle for Azeroth

Some loot contains abilities which can only be unlocked by powering up your Heart of Azeroth.

Even the hotly anticipated new Allied Races are locked behind reputation grinds. For those who missed it, Allied Races give players an opportunity to create characters from races previously encountered in World of Warcraft. However, in order to earn the right to actually play one of these races, you’re going to need to play through old, outdated content.

Want to play as a Void Elf or Highmountain Tauren? Forget playing new content – you’re heading right back to the Broken Isles and grinding your way to Exalted with Legion factions, which if you missed that expansion, will take you weeks to do.

World of Warcraft - Battle for Azeroth

World of Warcraft - Battle for Azeroth

Each new race does come with its own mount though, so there’s that.

Look – I want to love this expansion, I really do. The levelling experience was an absolute blast, and the dungeons are fun and challenging. Just a month after launch, and the end-game already has plenty of content for players of all skill levels to dive into.

Small groups can test their teamwork and skill in Mythic+ Dungeons, which spice up the dungeon experience with time limits and challenge modifiers. Guilds and large groups can take on the challenging new Uldir Raid. PvP fans can sink their teeth into the Arena, which recently started a new season. Even casual players can run world quests, jump into battlegrounds and try their luck with Heroic Dungeons.

World of Warcraft - Battle for Azeroth

Underrot – one of Battle For Azeroth’s numerous new dungeons.

The game doesn’t suffer from a lack of content – it suffers from a lack of incentive. And I can’t help but feel that a lot of that is due to the game just being rushed.

The good news is that there’s a major content patch just around the corner, so it’s likely that many of these problems will be addressed. And here’s hoping – because with a few tweaks and changes, Battle for Azeroth has the potential to be Blizzard’s best expansion yet.

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